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Refugee crisis: A message from our CEO

Refugee camps are no place for children
Refugee camps are no place for children

Today, the government announced that the UK is committed to taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees. It is young people who suffer most at times of conflict and we are happy that orphans and vulnerable children are among those being prioritised as part of the scheme to resettle refugees from camps in Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon in the UK. The Prime Minister’s statement was prompted by growing pressure on European leaders to take decisive action amid increasingly chaotic scenes in Europe.

June saw 43,460 refugees and migrants arrive by sea in Europe. They have been driven to make the perilous journey by wars, crises and brutal repression in the Middle East and Africa. According to the UNHCR, 4 million people have fled Syria since the country spiralled into war in 2011. 2.59 million have fled conflict and poverty in Afghanistan and over 300, 600 Eritreans have escaped a ruthless dictatorship that perpetrates horrific human rights abuses. 

A statement from our CEO

Our CEO, Simon Etherington has responded to the Prime Minister’s announcement:

“This announcement came as welcome news to those of us working to provide safety and care for children affected by the war in Syria. As a long-established non-governmental organisation working with orphaned and abandoned children in 125 countries around the world, and the leading provider of out of home childcare to children in Europe, we have worked in Syria and surrounding countries since the 1970s and have been helping children there throughout the current conflict.

SOS Children's Villages is ready to support children and families who need our help. In Austria, Macedonia and Serbia – as well as in other parts of Europe where the number of refugees is increasing – SOS Children's Villages staff and volunteers are helping by providing food, water, medicine and shelter. We are also working to keep families together and will be providing homes to children who need them.”

Farid's story

Thousands of children have travelled by themselves or become separated from their families on the journey. Millions more remain in refugee camps across the Middle East where they live without adequate protection from the elements, access to schools or enough food. The camps are overcrowded, leading to unsanitary conditions and the threat of disease. The reality for children who have made it to Europe is not much better.

A fly lands on a refugee baby's foot
Farid had heart surgery only a few months ago, but his mother had no choice but to flee Syria
In a refugee camp set up in a hurry on Macedonia’s southern border, a young mother cradles her baby. Farid is just seven months old, but already he has become a victim of a savage war and forced to leave his homeland. Rima, his mother, is just 20 years old but has the weariness of a much older woman. They have fled from Kobane in Syria, a city ravaged first by the civil war and then by Islamic State. Farid had heart surgery in Syria and is desperately ill. He lost a lot of weight on the journey –a journey that no baby, especially not one as sick as Farid – should ever have to make. Her husband has made it to Germany and she is worried she will not be reunited with him.

The refugee camp this young family have been staying is poorly equipped to deal with the sheer number of people who now inhabit it. The need for basic food, clothes and baby products like nappies and bottles is huge. SOS Children Macedonia is working hard to help the people who find themselves in the camp.

What we're doing

Electricity is soon to be made available to inhabitants and will also enable SOS Children to implement a plant to set up an ‘ICT corner’. “In the first phase of the project, we will set up a WIFI hotspot running on 4G internet for the refugees in the camp so they won’t have to buy local SIM cards,” explains Zoran Murgoski, ICT Advisor to SOS Children’s Villages. “A charging station for mobile phones and other electronics is also planned, as is an internet/ printing kiosk where SOS staff will be on hand to help people search for information on their families, travel routes etc.”

In addition to this ICT Centre, SOS Children Macedonia are:

  • Drafting in two teams of professional psychologists, child-development specialists and education specialists who will work directly with children, young people and families in the camp.
  • Creating a Child Friendly Space where children can relax and play despite the difficulty of the situation.
  • Adapting a family house at SOS Children’s Village in Skopje to accommodate up to five unaccompanied and separated children, giving them a safe and loving place to live whilst the SOS team work hard to reunite them with their families.

As well as working to support refugees as they enter Europe, we are continuing our work in the countries they are fleeing. We have been providing help to vulnerable children and families affected by the war in Syria since the conflict began and, since, 2012, we have helped thousands of people. Find out more about how we are helping.

We are used to taking responsibility for children in natural disasters and in conflict zones, having being asked by governments to take responsibility for lost and abandoned children in Pakistan during the disaster there, in Haiti and more recently in Nepal.  Our work in the aftermath of the tsunami is well known to all the governments in that region. We also work in most African countries.